Food writer Silvana Nardone recently penned “Cooking for Isaiah: Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Recipes for Easy, Delicious Meals” (Sprig/Reader’s Digest Association, $24.95, 224 pages). The book chronicles how Silvana reinvented her cooking after discovering her son’s intolerances to gluten and dairy.
Right off the bat I noticed the recipes are accessible and family-friendly. The pizza crust, created from “Silvana’s all-purpose flour blend”, rivals any wheat-filled crust. The breakfast chapter, which includes a full lineup of pancakes, waffles, and even gluten-free doughnuts will please even the pickiest (and youngest) gluten-free diners. I love Silvana’s inclusion of helpful tips as well, such as using rice cereal crumbs as a topping for crisps and gratins.
Since so many families are dealing with the problem of food sensitivities in their own families, I asked Silvana to share tips on how she’s addressed these issues with her children, Isaiah and Chiara.
LBR: As the former owner of an Italian bakery, your world used to revolve around wheat. Once you discovered your son’s food intolerances, you had to switch to gluten-free cooking and baking. How did you do it?
SN: Isaiah and I were sitting next to each other at the doctor’s office when she gave us the news that he was gluten- and dairy-intolerant. It was the way Isaiah looked at me, with those big brown eyes and asked me what he could eat. It broke my heart. In that moment, I had no clue how to respond. All I knew was that we had no choice but to start over.
LBR: Do you have any tips for parents who recently discovered their own child’s gluten sensitivity? How do you start the transition?
SN: The first thing to remember is that the diagnosis will change your life forever, but it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s just a new beginning — one that means your child will be healthier and ultimately, happier. When you go home, start by putting everything with gluten in it on your kitchen table and donate the food to friends, family or a local shelter. Next, keep things simple: Eat naturally gluten-free foods like proteins, vegetables, fruits, rice, polenta and mashed potatoes. Then, slowly begin to experiment with store-bought baking mixes and gluten-free cookbooks. Once you feel more confident and get your cooking rhythm back, you can make almost anything.
LBR: How do you handle school snacks and birthday parties? Can you help your child feel comfortable in a room full of cupcakes and pretzels?
SN: There are so many snacks that are naturally gluten-free, and I always make sure that Isaiah has plenty of options in his lunchbox. Some of his favorites are potato chips, tortilla chips and fruit twists. For Isaiah’s last birthday, I made gluten-free chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting, and for Chiara’s party, I baked a gluten-free vanilla layer cake with strawberry frosting and butterfly sprinkles. All the kids gobbled them up and moms asked me for the recipes. That’s when I know I have a successful recipe on my hands.
LBR: Your book is full of family-friendly, everyday recipes. What are some of your kids’ favorites?
SN: If Isaiah had to pick just a few recipes, they would be the scampi-stuffed shrimp, chicken and waffles, barbecued ribs and, of course, the pizzas. Chiara would go for the enchiladas, chicken fingers and maple-mustard pork.
LBR: What is your biggest frustration in terms of feeding a child with food sensitivities?
SN: Isaiah wants to be like his friends, which for school means eating a “normal” lunch. I used to pack him all sorts of tasty hot lunches, but then I realized he wasn’t eating them. I asked him why and he said he didn’t want to eat lunch with a fork or a spoon. I switched to packing him a variety of snacks instead and he was happy again. For us, restaurants are pretty easy. His favorite restaurants know not to bring out the bread basket, and there are always naturally gluten-free dishes on the menu to choose from. I’d also say that after four years of being gluten-free, Isaiah is used to eating a burger with no bun.
LBR: On the flip side, what do you find most promising?
SN: Isaiah used to be the classic white-foods eater. When he had to take gluten out of his diet, he was forced to look outside of his food comfort zone. As a result, he eats a much more well-rounded diet. He’s also the first one to pick something off the supermarket shelf and flip straight to the ingredients. I like that he’s so aware of what he puts in his body and how it makes him feel.
LBR: Thanks to Silvana for sharing her stories and recipes in Cooking for Isaiah, a great addition to anyone’s kitchen, especially those who face the challenges of gluten- and dairy-free diets.
Note: The interview with Silvana originally ran in the Oregonian on 4/5/11.